A daily bulletin of news & opinion

7 December 2009

It’s our last hope, all or nothing, do or die, the Final Countdown, and the Danes are thrilled that it will take place in their capital. COP15, the UN’s vital climate summit starts today at Bella Center. Scandinavia’s largest conference venue holds unhappy memories for one delegate, President Obama, who is popping in en route to picking up his Nobel in Oslo. In October he and Michelle Obama came here for a final lobbying push as the International Olympic Committee decided where it would host the 2016 Games. His 20-car convoy closed down half the city for hours at a time, to the exasperation of many Copenhageners, and his perceived aloofness was judged to be a factor in Chicago losing out on the Games.

Scandinavian’s are not generally impressed by the trappings of power and, this time round Obama might be well advised to show a little more humility, to engage a little more with his hosts. Perhaps he could use one of the city’s new Bicycle Highways – £40m (€44m) worth of high-speed cycle paths – or one of the new electric CityCirkel buses, both launched to coincide with COP15, or he could take in a show. Hopenhagen – as the city has been temporarily rebranded – is also hosting an unprecedented array of over 90 cultural events in support of the summit. There will be exhibitions, concerts, lectures, art shows, something called the “Climate Bottom Meeting” at Christiania (the Danish for “summit” translates literally as “Top Meeting”) and a sustainable poetry reading. Even the protests are being organised along thoroughly Scandinavian lines. On Saturday 12th, climate activists are cordially invited to march from the Danish parliament to Bella Center.

There is a subtext to much of this, of course: that the world should follow Denmark’s lead in being the only nation in the world to have sustained economic growth while reducing its energy consumption (an achievement of which it is rightly proud), and that, on their way out, foreign government delegates should fill up their metaphorical suitcases with its world leading clean-technology products and know-how.

Copenhagen’s tourist board is well aware of the potential benefits of hosting COP15 too. “Hopefully, we’ll attract more conferences, investment, talent and tourists,” says Aneh Hajdu, head of communications. And what if no climate agreement is reached? “As far as branding the city is concerned, I’m not worried about that. That’s politics. I just hope the media aren’t going to be sending photos of burning cars by the end of it. We want the security to function well, and everything to run smoothly.”

But, as the conference kick-off approached, last-minute tensions were causing ripples in the usually placid, consensus-driven Danish society. The ruling Venstre Parti’s own Thor Pedersen – President of the Folketinget, or Danish parliament, no less – has voiced his fears that Denmark’s super tough environmental policies – Copenhagen wants to reduce its CO2 emissions by 20 per cent by 2015, for instance – are in danger of infringing on individual rights and freedoms.

Meanwhile, in response to a plea from Copenhagen’s mayor to delegates not to avail themselves of one of the city’s most famous female attractions (clue: it’s not the Little Mermaid), the Sexarbejdernes Interesse Organisation (the Hooker’s Union), has generously offered a free shag to visiting delegates: “[Mayor] Britt Bjergaard is abusing her power when she campaigns against our work,” said a SIO spokeswoman. On the TV news, the story was played out against a montage of President Obama waving as he walked down the steps of Air Force One, intercut with footage of various rubber fetish paraphernalia. Another first for Denmark.


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